Competition as a tool for self-improvement in Jiu jitsu. Here’s why.

Rodrigo Resende, 3rd degree Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt & 4th degree Judo black belt

In a conversation with one of my students, I had noticed that the topic of competition as a tool for self improvement should be discussed more often within my school, and furthermore in the Judo and Jiu Jitsu community.

This student is a talented fighter, a lion in the school and clearly a native competitor, but he had recently avoided competitions. One day I questioned him about it, trying to understand what was preventing him from competing. He mentioned that the pre-competition stress was the reason for it, and he would urinate at least 5 times in the morning of the competition day. He was concerned of losing control of it while on the mats fighting. In my opinion, that is a reasonable concern when you don’t know what to expect.

The conversation continued, and I asked him if he aimed to be a black belt one day, and if so, if he would like to teach. He said that it was in his plans and he was hoping to accomplish it one day. So in my view, overcoming this situation is very important for him, and I’m not talking about become a champion.

In my school, competition is not mandatory, but we strongly encourage them to. A tournament serves us far beyond medal chasing. For example, it’s the closest you can get to a real threat on the streets. You can simulate a scenario to practice your self-defence skills, but you can not anticipate the adrenaline rush, and that’s the factor that will impair you from using your skills in a street attack or a competition match. Being exposed to that is your best chance to learn how to deal with it.

How do you help your student when he tells you that he would like to compete? When he asks for tips to perform better or to deal with his nerves and butterflies before his matches, how do you respond if you haven’t faced and overcome that yourself? How are you going to teach with confidence a self-defence technique if you haven’t had the chance to perform it under the stress of real competition, or have never felt that adrenaline rush?

It is possible that you will end up like many who don’t believe in competition and only teach self defence, giving students a false sense of security. Or in some cases, falling in a cookie-cutter franchise, teaching through videos and repeating someone’s else’s lessons.

It’s important to remember that Jiu Jitsu and Judo are two practical arts. While the application of your technical knowledge in sparring is very important, there are many other aspects to focus on, including your form, knowledge of the curriculum and system, self-defence or kata for Judo, self-conduct, and more. And all of these have to be taken in consideration when evaluating a student for the next rank. So take all the opportunity to prepare yourself as it comes, and one day you will be a ready and confident Professor and martial artist.

Professor Rodrigo Resende

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